DHEKELIA, Cyprus (AP) — Nine-year-old Miles imagines himself a Manchester United player as he kicks a ball down Clarendon Road, a lonely street in a corner of this British military base on Cyprus that’s been his home all his life.
The boy’s family and 26 other refugees have been living in a legal limbo limbo at Dekhelia Garrison for two decades. But now that the British government has granted the group permanent residency, he may just get a chance to play for his favorite team for real.
Miles, his younger sister Destiny and older brother Emmanuel are the Cyprus-born children of Sudanese refugee Tag Bashir, who was ecstatic about a “brighter future” for his family in the U.K.
“We feel very, very happy after the long-standing problems … we’re trying to be in the U.K. as soon as we can so that we can establish our life and see how we can start our future for those kids,” Bashir told The Associated Press Tuesday.
Bashir was among a group of 75 people from Ethiopia, Iraq, Sudan and Syria whose fishing boat landed on the shores of RAF Akrotiri on this tiny, east Mediterranean island nation in October 1998. They had set sail from Lebanon to Italy, but people traffickers instead abandoned them in Cyprus.
Bashir said that over time the group dwindled to 31 as many either moved on to other European countries or returned to their country of origin.
But the remaining refugees never lost sight of their goal. For years, they waged a legal battle to get British authorities to allow them to reach the U.K. Britain had refused, saying that the Refugee Convention was never extended to the two military bases that it retained after Cyprus gained independence from British colonial rule in 1960.
The court battle moved from Cyprus to the U.K. where the group was represented by law firm Leigh Day. But just before a Supreme Court hearing that was scheduled for late last month, the British government decided to settle the case and grant the six families permanent residency “due to the highly unusual circumstances.”
The 46 year-old construction worker who fled Sudan’s civil war said that “anywhere in the U.K. is a better place” than Dhekelia’s dilapidated, corrugated iron houses, slated for demolition years ago. He said a life in the U.K. will afford his children — and the 14 other kids affected by the decision — chances at a much better life.
“The one thing that we need for them is to integrate in a society, to go to a place much wider, to see much different things,” Bashir said.
Bashir doesn’t believe that the decision could set a precedent for other refugees reaching the British bases because the “unique” decision to grant them residency was “made on a special basis.”